Harry Theochari, Maritime UK chairman, has urged new Prime Minister Boris Johnson to support and protect the country’s maritime industry as Brexit looms.
In an open letter to the UK prime minister published on the Maritime UK website, Theochari drew attention to the necessity of protecting merchant shipping, implementing measures to see the shipping industry is not de-facto closed out of the Gulf, and ensuring that the industry itself has the resources and capacity to continue. The latter point suggests a need to reset short-term border measures from 29 March to 31 October, as well as the necessity for more public information campaigns regarding preparation for Brexit.
He argues in favour of extending short-term border measures for ferry ports to apply to all ports to offer UK businesses a wider range of options for trading. To facilitate this, the government would need to proactively issue international trader registration numbers and upgrade common customs IT systems, which would likely see an increase in the volume of customs declarations.
Theochari also points out that the economy of local coastal communities (as well as the overall economy) would likely be stimulated by an increase in free ports (ports that are open to all traders and where goods are exempt from customs duty). He notes that while free ports are not an infallible measure, they have a history of success in stimulating investment and jobs in a range of locations around the world when bolstered by the strong local support and the right conditions. Most importantly, they would be a factor in improved connectivity for ports. Theochari argues that implementing these sorts of measures would not only lead to additional private investment – an estimated GBP100 million (USD122 million) per year in an industry that is already investing GBP700 million a year, with nearly GBP1.6 billion promised in the future.
Theochari also suggested upcoming projects that might benefit from government support. The maritime sector intends to foster collaboration through Maritime UK regional clusters that will include businesses, academia, and local governments in the style of the Mersey Maritime model. Using the Clean Maritime Plan as an example (which minimises environmental impact and carbon emissions) and the recent launch of Maritime Research & Innovation UK (MarRI-UK), a national centre for maritime research and innovation, Theochari argues that emerging technology will see them at the forefront of an enormous and global market in environmental systems being implemented worldwide. These include not only decarbonisation and reduction in emissions, but also clearing the oceans of plastics and environmental protection. “The task of turning these ambitious recommendations into reality rests on the strength of partnership between industry and government,” he wrote.
Theochari notes that the strength of the industry is dependent on an ambitious and talented workforce that is supported and allowed to thrive. The ability to attract global talent remains essential to the well-documented productivity of the maritime sector in a post-Brexit economy. Theochari wrote, “As we leave the EU, it’s vital that we are seen to be open to global talent, whether for students attending our world-leading institutions, or those during their careers.”